The Interpreter Shortage: A Crisis for Access

When the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf was founded in 1964, most sign language interpreters were children of deaf adults, also known as CODAs. RID helped spur the establishment of interpreter training programs, mostly in 8 week programs. 1990's passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act encouraged more programs to be developed mostly in community colleges. With the encouragement of the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC) in the 2000s, richer programs began establishing at the university level across the country.

The industry-rocking development of Video Relay Service centers in the mid-2000s changed the field forever. For the first time, interpreters could find steady employment outside of working in schools and Deaf people could access a whole new world from the videophone, increasing opportunities at work, in their education, and with their families. Non-government funded Video Remote Interpreting in hospitals and courts exploded in the early 2010s, providing more interpreter jobs and increased access for the Deaf.

Meanwhile, despite increased opportunities for interpreter employment, the school-to-certification gap persists; interpreter preparation program are graduating fewer students, those students often struggle to continue their fluency in American Sign Language and get certified, and a shortage of qualified interpreters persists.

This shortage is felt especially deeply for companies like Interpretek who provide traditional, onsite interpreters in courts, hospitals, employment settings, schools, and more. Despite offering some of the country's top compensation package, the struggle to recruit interpreters persists. Couple this with competition from video providers and red tape with government regulation and you have a recipe for a crisis.

Interpretek is feeling this challenge in all of our regions, but we're especially challenged to recruit interpreters to our Kansas City office. This office sits in a unique position of serving a bistate area: Kansas and Missouri. Here, we follow the regulations of two states; Missouri's is quite restrictive and doesn't fully recognize the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf's NIC nor CI-CT certifications. Interpreters with these certifications are some of the most qualified: NIC interpreters must hold a Bachelors degree or demonstrate their experience through RID's Alternative Pathway, and have passed a rigorous knowledge exam in which they must demonstrate their ability to make professional judgments, including how to know when to accept assignments. CI-CT interpreters also passed a written test focused on the interpreters' code of ethics and by the nature of the test running from 1998-2008, have a minimum of 9 years' experience in the field. All RID certified interpreters have gone above and beyond the norms in the state by sitting for these national exams, as most interpreters are certified at the state level only.

Missouri governor Eric Greitens ordered a rules review mandating a review of every state agency regulation, including those under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Board for Certification of Interpreters. As part of the review process, MCDHH will be accepting public comments to identify regulations that are ineffective, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome.

We ask respectfully ask that MCDHH and its Board of Certified Interpreters change section 5 CSR 100-200.170 Skill Level Standards to accept RID's National Interpreter Certification (NIC) and the Certification of Interpretation and Transliteration (CI-CT) as equivalent to the Missouri Master to alleviate the restriction of qualified interpreters to work in our most challenging settings.

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